A Note to the IC Workforce on the Whistleblower

| Michael Morell
Michael J. Morell
Former Acting Director, CIA

OPINION — It is common for the leadership of the Intelligence Community to send notes to the workforce. The leaderships’ thoughts on all sorts of issues – from intelligence successes and failures to key personnel assignments and critical budget decisions and, yes, sometimes when the IC appears in the media as source or subject – are an important way to keep the workforce informed, to give them a learned perspective on an issue, and to bind the workforce together.

The many directors with whom I worked at CIA regularly sent messages to the workforce. DNIs did so as well, although less frequently. I did so when I served as Acting Director. I even once sent a note to the CIA workforce on the movie Zero Dark Thirty because the film sold itself as based on fact but I believed it did not accurately portray – in a way that did a disservice to the men and women of the Agency – a number of aspects of the operation to bring bin Ladin to justice.

I do not know whether or not the current Director of National Intelligence Joe McGuire has sent a message to the IC workforce on the whistleblower, but I sure hope so because the whistleblower deserves his full-throated support and the workforce needs to know that they should act in a similar fashion if they see wrongdoing.

I believe the DNI should have been the one to send this note rather than the Director of CIA because the government has not confirmed that the whistleblower works at CIA. That is only alleged by the media. For my part, I do not know, independent of the media, where the whistleblower works.

Given a grotesque comment I saw Monday evening, I wanted to write my own note to the IC workforce and, indeed, to the American people.  On Monday, a former US Attorney equated the whistleblower to John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln.  I was appalled and angered by such an outrageous and despicable comment. I believe that the former US Attorney, Joe diGenova, should apologize and that all members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, should denounce the comment in the strongest possible terms.  The DNI should do so as well.

Here is my note to the women and men of the IC:

Dear former IC Colleagues,

All of you know, whether you serve in the Washington, DC area or at a distant post in a war zone, that one of your colleagues believed he/she saw wrongdoing by our government and that they reported it to Congress by going through the established whistleblower process. 

I want all of you to know my strong support for the whistleblower. I believe that the whistleblower did the right thing.  As a government employee, you are all called to report waste, fraud, and abuse and to do so not by going to the media but by going to Congress, through a process outlined in law.  That is what the whistleblower did, and that is what I would want each of every one of you to do, if put in the same position.

I consider the whistleblower a patriot.  I saw many types of bravery in my 33-year CIA career; this is the perhaps the bravest thing I have ever seen in Washington. 

The whistleblower deserves the IC to make every effort to protect his/her identity; he/she deserves any necessary physical security, which the IC should be committed to providing; and he/she deserves IC public pushback on the vitriol, such as Monday’s comment by the former US attorney, that is already coming his/her way and is certain to continue in the hyper politicized environment in which we live.

I am struck that of all the many people who knew about the activities that the whistleblower was concerned about, it took an officer of the IC to report it, to call it out.  I am not surprised by that because the IC’s ethos, etched into the wall in the CIA lobby “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” runs so strong in your veins. 

The whistleblower is a shining example of one of the things that makes the IC such a national treasure.  He/she should be a model for you all.


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The Author is Michael J. Morell

Michael Morell, the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is one of our nation's leading national security professionals, with extensive experience in intelligence and foreign policy.  He has been at the center of our nation's fight against terrorism, its work to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and its efforts to respond to trends that are altering the international landscape—including the Arab Spring, the rise of China,... Read More

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One Reply to “A Note to the IC Workforce on the Whistleblower”
  1. Thank you, Mr. Morell, for writing this
    note to the members of the IC and making it available for all Americans to read. We must all express support for the whistleblower and soundly denounce anyone who threatens to uncover this courageous public servant!

    You were spot on in labelling the words of Joseph DiGenova “grotesque, outrageous and despicable”. However, in my opinion, these words were not the worst ever expressed about the whistleblower. On Thursday, September 26, the president of the United States, in a speech before the United States Mission to the United Nations, called the whistleblower, as well as those who provided information to her/him as, “…close to a spy “. What he said next was even more chilling: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” (Business Insider, September 26, 2019). The fact that some in the audience could be heard laughing made me so angry!

    About two years ago, you wrote a thoughtful review of the movie, “The Darkest Hour”, highlighting the indelible impact of Winston Churchill’s leadership, his impact upon the Allies in their heroic fight against tyranny during the Second World War, and how much the world needed someone like him in this challenging moment in our history (“Taking a Lesson From Churchill For Today”, The Cipher Brief, December 21, 2017).

    Well, I believe we have someone in our midst right now who is exhibiting the same strength of character and leadership in speaking the truth and standing against tyranny: the whistleblower! And not just him/her, but Marie Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill, William Taylor, George Kent and others – brave, patriotic Americans who are not deterred by threats, slander and character assassination.

    I pray for them all daily, standing on this verse from Job 5:12 of the Bible:
    “He (God) frustrates the devices and schemes of the crafty, so that their hands cannot attain success or achieve anything of lasting worth.” (Amplified translation of the King James Bible). Whenever I hear someone threatening to expose the identity of the whistleblower or express the desire to harm and ruin the lives of Americans standing up in support of our nation’s democracy and bearing witness to the truth, I remember this verse, then pray and believe that any attempt at exposure will meet with complete and total failure!

    Mr. Morell, your heart and soul is felt in every word of your letter of encouragement to the IC; they are blessed to have such a champion in you. I trust that they know and believe that millions of Americans are standing with them!

    Thank you!